For Tigers, it's not the manager, it's the lack of execution
Detroit — No, it's not a manager that's killing the Tigers. We've been through that debate before, remember, during the waning years of Jim Leyland's stewardship, when too many fans thought too many times that it was the cigarette-smoking skipper who was keeping them from a World Series parade.
Brad Ausmus is no more the reason for a 37-36 record than Leyland was responsible for his own well-paid, well-equipped club's frustrating games and trophy-less seasons.
Rather, it's a team's execution, or lack thereof. And while a manager bears accountability there, these players happen to have been brought to Detroit by general manager Dave Dombrowski, who might be as upset with current matters as his boss, owner Mike Ilitch, figures to be in examining a $170 million roster and its so-so record.
The Tigers lost to the White Sox, 8-7, in 10 excruciating innings Thursday at Comerica Park. It was the kind of game that might have made Ilitch, his staff, and his customers (Thursday attendance: 40,355) feel as if they had been water-boarded. Or maybe worse.
It was a game that in at least a half-dozen analyses should have been Detroit's. And yet it was another defeat, one so bruising you wonder if it might not be remembered Oct. 4, the last day of the regular season, when playoff teams head for the tournament and losers go home.
Taking the heat
Look at Thursday's tumble and it's easy to see why a manager gets the heat. But, again, it's not the skipper doing in a team from Detroit. It's the performers. And it's difficult to see that much of substance would change even if Ron Gardenhire, itching to get back into a big-league dugout, would be sought by Ilitch in tandem with Dombrowski.
Would the Gardenhire some of us covered for years have allowed Victor Martinez to be replaced by a pinch-runner with two out in the ninth of a 5-5 game?
Uh, yes. Almost certainly. Gardenhire wouldn't have wanted Martinez, who can scarcely run, dying at third base on an extra-base hit, which is something the next batter, Yoenis Cespedes, tends to do.
Gardenhire also would have known there was a 23-percent chance Martinez would see another at-bat. Unfortunately for the Tigers and for basic math, that 23-percent chance arrived with two gone in the 10th. And it arrived, with the bases loaded, in the person of Josh Wilson, who isn't Victor Martinez and who subsequently proved it with an inning-ending strikeout.
Joba Chamberlain? Ausmus waited for the 10th to use a relief pitcher who entered Thursday with a 1.89 ERA and who departed Comerica with a 3.15 ERA after he hung a slider to No. 9 hitter Carlos Sanchez (.159 average before Thursday's game) who turned it into a three-run triple.
Is this on Ausmus? No. Is it on Dombrowski? Yes, of course. But check the game logs and you see how many Chamberlain appearances have gone just fine. It's the blowups that have been ugly and indelible and fans can't, for a moment, be asked to excuse those. Nor will they forgive the fact Dombrowski had no better option than to re-sign a relief pitcher other clubs weren't exactly fighting to sign ahead of Detroit during the past two offseasons.
Nick Castellanos? He had a double and triple Thursday and looked for an afternoon as if he were shedding his sophomore funk. He also ran into an out at home plate in the fourth when he missed a directive — Castellanos has missed a fair share of signs this season — to stay put on a ground ball to a pulled-in infield and instead tried to score.
Is this the manager? Or is it the 23-year-old performer? Likewise, was it on Ausmus that Ian Kinsler popped a bunt to the pitcher in the seventh with two one and one out? No, although you can question whether Kinsler should have been bunting when Miguel Cabrera would only have been walked following any successful sacrifice.
As it turned out, Cabrera batted, anyway, because of the popped bunt and, as the Tigers have insisted on doing with such regularity this season, Cabrera rapped into a double play.
Get better, quickly
These are issues that explain heavily a team being 37-36. It is still too early to issue indictments, all because Victor Martinez has been back only a week following his knee-shortened spring, and also because Justin Verlander, and even Alex Avila, have missed weeks and months.
Note, too, the difference Bruce Rondon made as he stepped to the mound in the seventh for his first regular-season appearance in 21 months and torched both White Sox batters who ran into his arsenal.
But it's clear after Thursday a team needs soon, very soon, to play better baseball. And that will be an urgent matter Ilitch, Dombrowski and Ausmus, as well as some talented and highly compensated players, need to sort out.
Thursday's game was something of a waste. Not that the White Sox are riffraff. They are big-leaguers and deserved victory. But there were far too many reasons for a local team, on a day when invitations and opportunities were prevalent, to have grabbed a baseball game by the throat.
That is, if this team, billed as a playoff team, built and paid as a playoff team, intends to be anything other than a colossal disappointment to themselves, to customers, and to a certain owner who might be getting more than fed up.